Friday, June 14, 2013

Tsunami Thoughts

So, according to the latest information, in this idyllic beach town of Gearhart, Oregon, there is NO PLACE which can escape The Big One.  At least within a walking distance of 15 minutes.  "The Big One", you may recall, is an earthquake of 9.1 or so on the Cascadia fault which will cause serious structural damage and a lot of chaos.  "They" say that The Big One is inevitable, it's been 300 years since the last one and that's about the length of time in between earlier Big Ones.  So any day now, obviously. 

It's why I go to bed at night with the prayer "please God help me cope if anything happens", and wondering if I would have the fortitude to leave the cats shut up in their room while I walk out the door with my gallon of water and suitcase full of supplies.

Tsunami preparation requires a whole lot of forethought about proper preparation, and it's not just the decisions about which clothes to take, the nonperishables and water, the sleeping bag and rain fly, the campstove and fuel.  It's about my capacity to lug all the stuff they recommend, about my capacity to leave my cats behind because I can't possibly get them in cages AND carry them in addition to everything else, about my interest in … in…  in what?  Living?  Starting over? 

This boils down to, of course, my thoughts about death and life.  It's a theological issue that I've had to put front and center many times over the years, with congregants who are on the far edges of their lives, with survivors, with kids who've lost a parent, with terminal patients who want to end their lives.  And, of course, with myself.

If I felt the ground move, if I felt the earth shudder in an immense tremor, if I knew in my rational mind that I had only 15 minutes to get my stuff together and move quickly to high ground, what would I do?  I will not have time for rational decisions on the spot.  I need to have those decisions made in advance:  grab my supplies and go?  or stay and go down with the cats?

I've joked around with friends and family about it.  I've said, "darlings, I've lived a full and satisfying life.  I may just walk west, instead of trying to outrun the tsunami."  They don't know if I'm really joking or if I'm serious.  I don't know either.

These recent revelations about the chances of anyone in Gearhart surviving a 9.1 tsunami are sobering, to say the least.  We'd have to run for over a mile east in order to escape those waves.  I don't know if I could do it, particularly if I'm trying to lug all the supplies that they advise we collect.  How are any of us single, older women supposed to do that? 

And what's so bad about ending one's life in the ocean?  I can certainly think of worse ways to go.  I don't like the idea of washing up on shore dead and creeping out some rescuer, but maybe the fish and birds would get to me first.  Not such a terrible way to go.  Green, for sure.  But maybe hard on loved ones who have to decide about the memorial service when they don't have a body.

I've said I need to have these decisions made before the earthquake hits.  But in the moment, I may act on instinct, rather than rationality.  To make my best effort to survive makes a lot of sense.  But to leave the cats behind because I can't save them----that bothers me more than the Big One.

Tsunami thoughts prelude

From the Seaside Signal, a local newspaper: 

"... the Gearhart City Council last week learned from Smith that residents have almost no place to run.
In fact, Gearhart has something that no other coastal town has: an “optional high ground assembly area.”
It’s a stretch of higher ground at the Gearhart Golf Links that, in 95 percent of the tsunamis, stays dry. It might stay dry in a large tsunami, but in an extra, extra large tsunami – where the magnitude of the Cascadia earthquake reaches 9.1 – even that wouldn’t be available, Smith said.
The new tsunami map for Gearhart, shows that “optional” assembly point as a crosshatched strip running along either side of the golf course and bordered by Gearhart Lane and Highlands Lane.
But, overall, “Gearhart doesn’t really have any good options for high ground,” Smith told the Gearhart City Council last week.
“The city of Gearhart is really at a disadvantage,” Smith said.
In a distant tsunami, water would surge up to U.S. Highway 101 south of Fifth Street, surrounding Gearhart Elementary School. Water also is expected to follow Neacoxie Creek throughout town, north to Gearhart Lane.
The worst case – or an “extra-extra large” tsunami, which would occur after a magnitude 9.1 earthquake — is expected to stretch way beyond U.S. Highway 101, past the end of Salminen Road, where the city’s water tank is located.
Another narrow crosshatched “optional high ground” strip runs east of Dooley Lane north beyond East Pine Lane, but that strip is only a potential oasis in the middle of a tsunami sea. And that’s only in a “large” tsunami, not in the worst case, Smith pointed out.
After listening to Smith, City Councilor Al Carder asked her what the likelihood would be that someone would reach the “optional” area near the golf course.
“If they’re on the west side of the Neacoxie, their access and egress is going to be gone,” Carder said. “We’re toast. We’re toast.”
Smith said she understood Carder’s concern.
“Yes, I can’t sugarcoat it,” she said. “It’s dire if (the tsunami) is an XXL. There will be a lot of fatalities in this area.”"

Stay tuned for my thoughts about this very personal threat.